Tuesday, April 24, 2018

U is for Unusual Conception (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

Unusual conception in folktales is really not all that unusual. We have already seen people get pregnant from smelling tulips, eating roses, swallowing peppercorn, and a million other things. But there is one folktale, collected from storyteller Karácsony József in Chibed, Transylvania, that definitely takes the cake. The title of the tale is Miklós, Son of the Mare (Kancafia Miklós), and this is how it starts:

Once upon a time there was a rich man whose crops kept getting stolen. He went to a wise woman, who gave him some peas, and told him to sow them along with the wheat. Whoever tasted the crops would have a pea grow on their nose.



Time for the harvest came. A maid brought food to the harvesters, and found some fresh peas at the edge of the field; she picked them, ate them, and lo and behold - a pea grew on her nose! She ran home crying, and told the rich man what happened.

The rich man, feeling bad that the maid got cursed instead of an actual thief, went to the wise woman again. The wise woman told him that the girl can get rid of the pea by kissing someone. When told, the maid immediately ran out to the mountains, found an unsuspecting shepherd, made out with him... and passed on the pea.

The shepherd went to the same wise woman to ask for advice. She told him the same thing: Kiss someone, and pass on the pea. So, when the shepherd met the priest on the way home, the made out with the priest, and passed the pea to him.

The priest also went to the wise woman. She told him that he could get rid of the pea for good if he "rubbed up" against some animal. So he went to the stables, rubbed against a mare... and the pea disappeared. Some months later, the mare gave birth to a baby boy - Miklós, Son of the Mare.

Miklós then goes on to have all kinds of adventures, but really none of them are nearly as weird as his conception. Trust me.

Monday, April 23, 2018

T is for Tulip Soldiers (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

You have probably already guessed that tulips have a special place in Hungarian folklore.

This one is a historical legend featuring one of our great national heroes, Rákóczi Ferenc II, the leader of the 1703-1711 revolution against Habsburg rule (which we lost). He is a very common figure in folktales and folk legends, along with his mother, the legendary Zrínyi Ilona. There are "Rákóczi trees" all over the country, ancient trees people claim he either slept under, tied his horse to, or, in the case of the one in my home village, watched a battle from under it. And this is not his only connection to flora either.

According to a cute little story, Rákóczi as a child once had a dream that his mother's tulips were in danger. He crept out of his bed and took his blankets, covering the flowerbed and protecting it from a sudden frost. As he did so, an angel appeared, and handed him a golden horn.
Some time later the boy was playing in the courtyard when he heard the sound of an alarm: The enemy was attacking their castle. They had no soldiers to defend themselves. The boy blew into the magic horn, and suddenly all the tulips in the garden transformed into soldiers, and picked up their swords to defend the family.

I have a soft spot in my heart for this story. I found it while researching Transcarpathian folklore for my latest book; Pályuk Anna, the storyteller whose tales I translated, also had many stories about flowers transforming into people. Maybe it's a Transcarpathian thing.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

S is for a Soldier... (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

A soldier that peed for 77 years.

In the very first folktale collection ever published in Hungarian, in the early 1800s, there is a tale titled The Green Dragoon. We never actually find out why he is "green" (which is a pity, because I was excited for another Green Man variant).

At the beginning of the tale, a powerful queen (!) is taking her army to war. No one is allowed to break formation while they march, and if anyone falls out of like, they are executed. Which is  a problem for our green dragoon, because he really, really, really has to pee (or "relieve himself" - remember, these fairy tales were told by soldiers). So, he steps out of line, runs into the forest, and does what he needs to do.

The catch? The forest is enchanted. While the soldier thinks he only spend a few minutes in it, in reality he stands there peeing for seventy-seven years. When he is done, he comes out of the woods, and is surprised to discover that the army is long, long gone. The innkeeper in town doesn't even remember the war, and his money is not good anymore.

The rest of the story is more of a classic fairy tale: The Queen has been enchanted, so the soldier has to go through all kinds of tasks to rescue her - and then she is spirited away again, and he has to go traveling to find her and win her back. It is a colorful, fun, detailed story. With a very unusual beginning.

(Note: There is such a thing, historically, as a Green Dragoon. They were British loyalists in the American Revolution. Not sure if it had anything to do with the folktale, though.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

R is for Rosalia Lemonfarts, and Rosalia the Devilish (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

I was browsing the Hungarian Roma Storytellers' Folktale Catalog, when I came across an entry: "Rosalia Lemonfarts." Obviously, I needed to follow up on this name, so I went to the archives of the Museum of Ethnography, and dug up the neatly typed folktale manuscripts that have never been published (*shameless self-promotion* I did the same thing for my latest book).
And there it was.

Sadly, the lady wit the awesome name is not the hero of the story. The hero is a prince named Tulipán Péter (Tulip Peter). He gets his name from his miraculous conception: His father, the king, angry at not having an heir, leave his palace and orders his wife to produce a child by the time he gets home. She picks a tulip and smells it, and lo and behold, gets pregnant. BUT when the king gets home, he somehow still manages to be angry at her for having a bastard. So, after much commotion and obscenities, Peter is exiled from the kingdom.

The prince is put into a boat with his best friend (who lives in a hollowed-out watermelon, because why not), and eventually arrives to a kingdom where all offices are held by women. Except for the king. The king is in a bad mood, because every time he sits down to eat, two jackdaws show up and break his windows (King Phineus and the Harpies, anyone?). Péter helps him get rid of the birds, and in exchange he gets to marry the princess: Princess Rosalia Lemonfarts (Citromfingó Rozália). And just so that his buddy is not left a bachelor either, he gets to marry the princess' cousin, Rozsónia Lemonfarts.

That's pretty much it.

The "lemonfarts" part is never explained. My best guess is, it was a humorous way of saying that these are delicate, sophisticated noble ladies. Because, you know. They don't stink.

***

I promised yesterday to circle back to a girl with Death for a godfather. Her name is also Rosalia: Ördöngös Rozália. "Ördöngös" translates as "possessed" or "devilish", and is usually used for someone with abilities/powers/knowledge that are amazing and also a little scary...

We are all thinking it...
Just like the previous one, this is also a Hungarian Roma folktale. A poor man with a lot of children gets Death to be the godfather of his youngest daughter. When Rosalia is about twelve years old, she makes a bet one night to steal the boots off a hanged man. She does it (and when the corpse says "F*** you", she cheerfully says "F*** you too!"), and in addition steals a bunch of gold from twelve robbers. From this point on, most of the story is about her trying to get away from the angry robbers - usually with the help of Death, her godfather. My favorite part is when she hides in a hollow tree, and a robber stabs it with a sword to see if it comes out bloody. He does wound Rosalia in the chest, but Death appears and licks the sword clean before the robber pulls it out.
Yup.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q is for Questionable Godparents (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

There are several folktales an folktale types that include godparents that are... out of this world. Think Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, or Godfather Death from the Grimm collection. Sometimes they give superhuman abilities or powers to their godchildren, and sometimes they are less than beneficial. Hungarian folktales are no exception.

János Carnation-hair (Szegfűhajú János)
In this story, a magical woman from under the sea helps a poor widow deliver a baby boy, and then volunteers to be his godmother. Taking the baby to her underwater palace, she promptly chops János up, and leaves him in a bathtub for three days, before putting him back together and reviving him again. This repeats a couple of times, and each time János revives he becomes older and stronger. He eventually acquires the ability to read people's thoughts.
I included this tale in my book about superpowers in folktales.

(Last weekend I conducted a two-day retreat where storytellers got together to delve deep into this tale. There was a lot of discussion about motherhood, and whether the godmother was helping the boy, or not. Fascinating stuff.)

The Virgin Mary
In this tale, the Virgin Mary volunteers to be godmother to a poor man's daughter. She takes the girl home when she is twelve, and gives her keys to twelve rooms, but forbids her from looking into the thirteenth. Of course she does anyway, sees God himself, and her face turns golden. She refuses to tell Mary what happened - so the Virgin curses her mute, puts her in a box and abandons her in the woods. The girl is found by a prince, they get married, have children... but the children keep disappearing. Eventually the prince orders the girl to be burned at the stake for killing her own babies. Just when the pyre is lit, the Virgin Mary appears, and questions her again. This time the girl confesses that she'd seen God, and she is pardoned.

There is also a tale about a girl whose godfather was Death himself... but more about her tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

P is for the Pelican King (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

In the folktale titled The Pelican King, a princess insists that she will only marry a person who brings her the feathers... of the Pelican King. Our hero (who is incidentally called Peter) sets out to complete the impossible task. On his way he encounters various kings who have their own problems, and ask Peter to convey their questions to the all-knowing Pelican King, and beg for solutions.

When Peter finally arrives to the house of the Pelican King, he only finds the wife at home. The old woman promises to help, and hides Peter. When the King comes home, she lays him down to preen his feathers, and "accidentally" plucks three of them. The feathers shine with a brilliant diamond light. The old woman also manages to sneakily ask the questions Peter hand, and sends the hero on his way with the feathers and the answers.

I have two comments to add to this:


1. In folktales, having someone lie on your lap and "preening them" ("looking into their head", "checking them for lice", etc.) is symbolic for having sex. Yup. Re-think all those medieval illustrations.

2. The pelican in the middle ages was a symbolic bird, because people believed that it fed its young with its own blood. The church usually treated this as a symbol for Jesus, and people often referred to it as a symbol for motherhood. So, in this case, the Pelican King is some kind of a wise and radiant higher being, who knows all the answers to everything.

Basically, God is a pelican.

(I'm sure some of my SCA friends will be happy with this)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

O is for the One-eyed Old Woman and the Death Horse (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

Remember the prince with the castle built on a single straw? The same guy who visited the Kingdom  of Mice?
Well, that story still has some elements worth mentioning.

The tale kicks off with a prince exiled from his kingdom - for losing his sisters. He asks his father, the king, to allow them to take a walk, and the moment the princesses set foot outside, the Sun, the Moon, and the Wind pick them up and spirit them away. The king takes his anger out on his son, and the prince has to make his own way in the world.
On his journey, the prince arrives to the mouth of a cave. He walks in, and keeps walking inside the cave for twelve days, until he finds a stone house, and in the stone house twelve candles. In the light of the candles he sees an old woman, who has only one eye and a lush beard.

Yup.

She first tries to eat the prince, but he begs her not to. She then also convinces her twelve sons (who are bandits) not to hurt the guest. The next day, after some breakfast, she gives the prince directions: Since they recently ate the king's gardener (ahem), the prince should go and apply for the job. In order to get out of the underground kingdom faster, the one-eyed bearded lady gives the prince a Death Horse and a Wind Lamp. He rides the horse to the exit, and then sends it back home with the lamp around its neck.

We never find out what a Death Horse is, or what the Wind Lamp is for. Your guess is as good as mine. I do like the cyclops lady a lot, though.